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Farmer's stock portfolio stands on four legs

February 05, 2002

Farmer's stock portfolio stands on four legs



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY
andreabh@herald-mail.com


On nice days, Ernest Kueffner puts his retirement plan out to pasture.

His financial future grazes on the 48-acre Boonsboro dairy farm that Kueffner runs with girlfriend Terri Packard: a world champion Holstein named Tri-Day Ashlyn-ET.

Kueffner in 1999 paid Oseeana Holsteins of West Virginia $75,000 for half-ownership in and full care of a cow with good genes and a lot of show potential, he said. Ashlyn's value has skyrocketed with the international demand for her embryos since she swept five competitions in the U.S. and Canada last year and proved herself to be an outstanding milk and embryo producer.

"Right now, Ernie's 401(k) is standing in the barn," Packard said.

Selling frozen embryos is one of the main sources of income for cattle developers such as Kueffner, who doesn't sell his cows' milk. He buys cows and develops them to market offspring to the point someone wants to invest in them or buy them.

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But it's not all about the moo-la.

"I've got a lot of pride in my cows," said Kueffner, 50.

Holstein International magazine in January named 1-ton Holstein Ashlyn, 5, the world champion cow. She garnered 54 percent of readers' votes, Packard said. Another Kueffner cow, Ernest Anthony SD Tobi, 6, placed second.

Kueffner said the phone hasn't stopped ringing since his cattle captured the two top spots in November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Canada - an unheard-of feat for an American exhibitor.

International visitors have been known to show up at his barn for a peek at his champions. A millionaire couple from Connecticut recently hired him to launch their dairy program. And the requests from embryos and interviews come from all over the world, Kueffner said.

"You can't get off the phone. The interest is nice but I'm not one who likes the limelight," he said. "It's very uncomfortable because I'm a private person. I'm not complaining, but that's my personality."

Kueffner sheds his shell when he enters his barn. It's easy for him to talk about the massive black and white cow chewing on hay in her spacious stall.

"There she is," he says, walking toward Ashlyn. "She's not only pretty, she's smart and she gives a tremendous amount of milk. And she's like a flushing machine."

Ashlyn is given fertility drugs on a set schedule. Her eggs are artificially fertilized with semen from superior males when she goes into heat. A veterinarian then introduces into her uterine horn a fluid that flushes her embryos into a sterile dish. Embryos are inspected and those deemed satisfactory are inserted into inferior cows and heifers.

Ashlyn has flushed up to an impressive 25 embryos at a time, Kueffner said. Embryos sell for an average of $3,000 each.

In addition to producing embryos like a champ, Kueffner said, Ashlyn shows like one.

She took top honors last year at the Eastern Spring National Show in Syracuse, N.Y., the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa., and the World Dairy Exposition in Madison, Wis.

"She loves going to shows. She loves attention," Kueffner said. "When she goes to the ring she gives you a good feeling."

Ashlyn's third supreme champion prize marked the end of a perfect show season - the kind of season many breeders dream about. But Kueffner wasn't finished.

He decided to show his prize cow at the prestigious Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada, a country known for its outstanding breeding programs. The risk of ending Ashlyn's extraordinary show season with a loss didn't deter Kueffner.

"I wanted to sweep it all," he said. "It wasn't greed. I just wanted this cow to do something no other cow has done."

Ashlyn's grand champion win and Tobi's reserve grand champion finish marked the first such accomplishment for a U.S. exhibitor in the show's 78-year history. Tobi didn't compete in the other shows last year because she was calving.

Kueffner credits his cows' success to hard work and dedication.

It takes several years of planning such details as breeding schedules and nutrition plans to prepare for a single show season, he said. The end of a successful season means the start of a whirlwind marketing tour to promote prize cattle in hopes of garnering sales for their offspring. Kueffner advertises in a variety of trade magazines and on industry Web sites.

He and Packard on Monday launched their own Internet site, www.kueffnerkows.com.

Kueffner each day milks and exercises his cows and monitors their food intake to keep them fit and healthy. He bathes and brushes Ashlyn daily, he said.

Kueffner and Packard, owner of Caribbean Nails and Tanning in Boonsboro, care for about 60 Holstein and Jersey cattle. Thirteen-hour work days are common. And cows don't take holidays.

"You're constantly doing something. Christmas Day. New Year's Day. Super Bowl day. It doesn't matter," Kueffner said. "Everybody has to be dedicated."

A Wisconsin native, Kueffner has been involved with dairy cattle since he was a kid in 4-H. Holsteins captivated him even while he showed cows from his first herd of Brown Swiss, he said.

"The Brown Swiss looked like buffalo and the Holsteins looked like they had style," Kueffner said. "At 10 years old, I noticed that's where the future would be."

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